I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Alex As Well by Alyssa Brugman
Published by Henry Holt Books for Young Readers on January 20th 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
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Alex is ready for things to change, in a big way. Everyone seems to think she’s a boy, but for Alex the whole boy/girl thing isn’t as simple as either/or, and when she decides girl is closer to the truth, no one knows how to react, least of all her parents. Undeterred, Alex begins to create a new identity for herself: ditching one school, enrolling in another, and throwing out most of her clothes. But the other Alex—the boy Alex—has a lot to say about that. Heartbreaking and droll in equal measures, Alex As Well is a brilliantly told story of exploring gender and sexuality, navigating friendships, and finding a place to belong.
* Originally, I used male pronouns throughout this review. Since the point of the book is to witness Alex’s struggle between a male and female identity, I didn’t want to use female pronouns because they might be seen by some as a “spoiler.” I’ve realized that I should’ve used “they” instead and I’ve edited my review to reflect such changes.
On the surface, Alex As Well sounds like my kind of book. I love to read about the complexity of gender and sexuality so I had to jump at the opportunity to read it. In case you’re not familiar with it, the novel follows Alex, a teenager struggling with very conflicting sexual/gender issues. I don’t want to give too much away but basically “they” begins identifying as a girl but the circumstances surrounding this decision are complicated. While I appreciate the dialogue that this novel will open, I was disappointed to find out that it doesn’t live up to its potential.
At the beginning of the novel, we are introduced to two Alexes as a way to understand what’s happening inside Alex’s mind. They’re trying to balance their decision of living as a girl while dealing with a haunting and controlling boy inside of their mind. This dialogue between the two sides of Alex adds a unique quality to the novel. It shows the complicated nature of their issues by tackling the conflicting signals they’re receiving. I really enjoyed how this was handled and I think this was definitely the highlight of the novel.
However, I think the message of novel got a bit lost along the way. Alex’s life is not supposed to be easy but I was left with the feeling that everything fell into place anyway. Alex always has something good going on even when things should be falling apart. In fact, their voice came off as annoying and very ungrateful because of it. Everything was too neat and too nice to feel real. I don’t know if I’m just a bitter old woman but I was expecting something truly emotional and heartbreaking instead of what I got: a novel about teenager’s relationship with his/her parents. I know this sounds relatively deep but it wasn’t. The novel includes blog posts written by Alex’s mother, which are interesting to read but also very frustrating. Honestly, I’m not entirely sure where she stands on the whole issue. She’s all over the place and I’m not convinced that her erratic behavior added much to the story. I couldn’t help but shout “WHY CAN’T THESE PEOPLE JUST COMMUNICATE?!” every few pages because, really, this novel could’ve been ten pages long if the kid and the parents just talked instead of complaining so much. Just a suggestion.
Even though the novel conveys a strong message about the complicated nature of sexuality and gender, it doesn’t take the risk required to create a memorable and touching story. However, if you’re looking for a quick read which also happens to be diverse, you should give it a chance. Who knows, you might enjoy it.